No, this is not the title of an erotic fanfic about Santa and Mrs. Claus. Get your minds out of the gutters.
I’m in this network of parenting groups on facebook that are mostly positive. They’re non-judgemental, free of anti-vaxxers, and no one uses “DH” to describe their partners. But once a year they blow up. It’s not about breastfeeding vs. formula or working moms vs. stay-at-home moms. It’s about Santa.
One kid tells another kid Santa isn’t real. The first kid’s mom feels guilty about it and makes an innocuous post in a parenting group. The internet explodes into chaos.
As a former child raised as someone who knew Santa was a myth, I never realized how important he is to some people. I assumed parents didn’t want their kids to find out the truth because then they wouldn’t be able to use it as a behavior incentive. (That always felt a little icky to me, but I’m trying not to be judgmental.) For most parents it’s about magic.
They want to create a magical experience for their children. That magic is tied up in a belief in Santa. They remember believing in Santa as a child themselves. They plan how they want to tell their children that Santa, as a person, isn’t real, but anyone can be Santa to someone else by sharing a joyful giving spirit. I can’t judge that. I see how they don’t want some smarter-than-you kid messing it all up for their child.
My kid. Because I’m not going to tell my son Santa is real.
We want to make our kids childhoods “magical”. There are huge amusement parks dedicated to creating magical experiences for children. Families come in droves to spend money and wait in un-air conditioned lines next to other sweaty families to experience some magic.
I don’t need Santa to add some magic to my son’s childhood because childhood is already full of magic.
I remember being a kid and knowing magic wasn’t real, but still feeling like it was part of my life. I was new to the world and everything seemed amazing. If Arthur C Clark is right, and “magic is just science we don’t understand yet”, then everything is magic for little kids.
Christmas lights. Fairy tales. Baking. Bubbles. All of these things felt like magic to me when I was a kid.
You know what else felt like magic? Pretending in Santa. I knew Santa wasn’t a real person who came down my chimney (or, walked through the door, since we didn’t have a fireplace) and that the presents came from my parents. But we still pretended. We left out milk, cookies, and carrots. I knew my dad ate them when I was asleep, but it was still fun to pretend.
I think when we grow up we forget how real and powerful playing make-believe is for kids. My son often wants to pretend that we’re being chased by dinosaurs and have to hide in the curtains. These activities are boring for adults. We’d rather do structured play: do an art project, play a game with rules, throw a ball around. But my son beams when we play pretend together. He lights up. Because he’s still tuned into this childlike magic that I’ve long since outgrown. He doesn’t need me to influence him into believing in something that isn’t real. He already knows that the whole world is magic.
I’m not saying you can’t do Santa in your family, whole-heartedly and with gusto. If that’s a big part of your family tradition, who am I to stomp on it? I want to provide a middle option, somewhere in-between yes Santa and no Santa. Something that worked for me as a kid and a tradition I want to pass on.
Whether you do Santa or not, realize everyone’s going to do the same thing. There’s so many reasons for following whatever Santa tradition you choose. Some Christians find Santa too secular; some non-Christians find him to be too Christian. I think there’s a whole spectrum of Santa options for you to choose as a family. But please, be mindful of others. Think about how it feels when some kids get mountains of presents from Santa, and others get just one or none at all. If Santa was real, I believe he’d distribute presents equally, not based on the incomes of the child’s parents. Also, I don’t want my child to break another child’s heart with the truth about Santa. I’ll tell him to keep the secret under wraps. But since he’s not an extension of my own being, I can’t control what he does when he goes out into the world.
What are your favorite holiday traditions from when you were a kid?